It’s a call-up I have been anticipating, but never under these circumstances. With Braves superstar Freddie Freeman likely to miss at least two months with a fractured left wrist, the Braves have made a call to AAA and recalled third baseman Rio Ruiz.
Rio Ruiz, 3B
2017 Opening Day Assignment: AAA Gwinnett
10 HR, 1 SB
11.4 BB%, 21.8 K%
Ruiz was a 4th-round pick in 2012 by the Houston Astros and was traded to Atlanta along with right-handed pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman for DH Evan Gattis before the 2015 season. After a poor 2015 campaign at AA Mississippi, Ruiz improved his conditioning and impressed the Braves enough last spring to challenge him with a AAA assignment. Despite being the youngest position player in AAA, Ruiz was a strong performer at Gwinnett last year, though he suffered a set-back in May while playing through a strained oblique. Ruiz was rewarded with a September call-up to Atlanta, where he had two hits in 7 plate appearances, including a triple.
This spring Ruiz was a late cut, but again started the season with Gwinnett. After a slow start, Ruiz has hit .262/.305/.447 (108 wRC+) with 4 home runs so far in AAA, and has really warmed up of late, hitting .320/.358/.560 in his last two weeks.
Ruiz is a disciplined hitter who can make good contact to all fields, but is at his best when he can pull the ball for line drives. Ruiz worked last season to simplify his load to make his bat faster on inside pitches, and that work paid off as Ruiz was noticeably quicker to the ball. Even when he struggles, Ruiz will maintain a solid OBP by working counts and drawing walks.
Last season and this, Ruiz has displayed a sharp platoon split against left-handed pitchers. Scouting shows a tendency to bail out against lefties inside, though there has been some recent improvement in this area. Like many Braves minor leaguers this season, Ruiz has been noticeably more aggressive at the plate, swinging at more pitches and walking less in an effort to do more damage overall.
It’s in the field and on the bases that Ruiz’s improved conditioning has helped. Ruiz has shown good hands and an above-average to plus arm for third base, and improved range as well. While not a base-stealing threat, Ruiz has a good step out of the box and will take the extra base.
Losing Freddie Freeman for an extended length of time is one of the worst case scenarios for Atlanta. Not only he was an elite hitter that anchored an otherwise pedestrian line-up, but the team has very essentially no one beyond replacement-level first baseman at the AAA or AA levels.
Unless the team plugs the gap with a trade or a stop-gap signing of a free agent such as James Loney or Kelly Johnson, first base could be manned by a hodge-podge of Ruiz, Jace Peterson, Nick Markakis, and Johan Camargo. Adonis Garcia could also factor in once he returns from his own 10-day DL stint.
Ruiz has not played a professional game at first base, but reports are that coach Ron Washington is giving emergency tutelage at the position to both Ruiz and Camargo.
Personally, I had been advocating for a promotion for Ruiz for some time. Against right-handed hitters and in the field at third base, he would represent a significant upgrade over the efforts of Garcia. However, no amount of shuffling will come close to replacing what is lost with Freddie Freeman. Here’s hoping that Ruiz shows out well enough to remain with the squad once Freeman returns.